As the stunning news of House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation sinks in, talk has already been buzzing around Washington about what it means for the long list of critical issues Congress must deal with in the coming weeks.

The “tangle of fiscal deadlines” as the Washington Post describes it, includes the beginning of the new fiscal year this week, which is sure to be marked by intense differences of opinion over spending caps from the 2011 budget “sequestration.” Additionally, rancorous partisan debate over funding Planned Parenthood has helped fuel fears of another government shutdown this autumn.

While the prevailing view is that during Boehner’s last weeks in office the government will get funded for a few more months, this is only a short-term fix. Kicking the can down the road does nothing to address the deeper problem of a government in Washington that is paralyzed by partisan gridlock.

As Congress continues along its increasingly dysfunctional path, there is one key voice missing from deliberation on the Hill that could alter its course – the voice of the American people. As Representative Kevin McCarthy, one possible successor to Boehner, noted in an email to his colleagues, “I want us to be much closer to the people we represent, and I want them to once again feel like this is their government, they are in charge, and we are here to serve them.”

Getting closer to the people is exactly what Congress needs. Studies have shown the U.S. public at large is not as polarized as Congress, and when given the facts about policy issues, the people have shown a much greater flexibility, finding common ground on solutions for the greater good. Given the stakes, a little common sense guidance from “We the People” would come in handy right about now.

The Citizen Cabinet, now up and running in three states and soon to expand to more, was created for this purpose. On a regular basis, members of the Citizen Cabinet (a scientifically-selected, representative panel of registered voters in each state) go through an online consultation exercise – called a ‘policymaking simulation’ – that simulates the process elected officials go through on a pressing issue facing the federal government.

On each issue, Citizen Cabinet members get unbiased background information reviewed and vetted by experts and congressional staff from both sides of the aisle. They hear competing policy options that are actually on the table and evaluate the strongest pro and con arguments. Then they choose which policy options they would like their members of Congress to pursue. VOP then shares the results directly with their representatives, the media and the public.

Citizen Cabinets have already weighed in on the expected shortfall in Social Security and the nuclear deal with Iran, and members of Congress are showing a willingness to listen. Next, the Citizen Cabinet will focus on the federal discretionary budget.

Bringing to the table the voice of an informed public, one that is not as polarized as the forces that drive our current political climate, gives members the reassurance they need to make tough choices – allowing them to stand up to pressure from special interests and do what they believe is right.

With the stakes this high, having the informed voice of the People heard has never been more crucial.


Citizen voting is fundamental in strengthening our democracy. Today is National Voter Registration Day — to inspire, induce and encourage all citizens over the age of 18 to sign up and make their voices heard at the ballot box.

In 2008, more than 5 million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. Let’s significantly reduce that number for 2016! Contact your city or state government and find out what you need to do to ensure you are eligible…. then make yourself heard on election day!


In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all governments to strengthen efforts devoted to “the promotion and consolidation of democracy” and dedicated September 15th as the International Day of Democracy. We don’t need to look far to find democracies in need of help. Our own is not in the best of shape these days.

As recent polls attest, large majorities of Americans express deep dissatisfaction with our political system, don’t feel their voice is being heard, and are hungry for the kind of civil society our Founders envisioned – one that truly reflects the will of the citizens, not special interests. 

On this Democracy Day, our most important task ought to be restoring Americans’ faith that our political system is worthy of their continued participation, which by most measures is in decline.  According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the global organization representing 190 parliaments around the world, Democracy is only as strong as the political participation of citizens and this must be increased.” We agree: Restoring public participation in the civic life of America ought to be our highest priority, this day and every day.

As IPU President Saber Chowdhury puts it, “Democracy as a concept is based on the right of every individual to take part and be represented in the management of public affairs and the decisions that affect them daily… There is no democracy without the voice of the people driving the political decision-making.”  Voice Of the People’s recent efforts to engage the public, and provide Congress with a new non-partisan resource giving them a direct line to the informed views of their constituents, on issues like Social Security reform and the Iran nuclear deal, are dedicated to precisely this purpose.

We can all do more to improve civic life in America: Getting informed on the issues, listening to each other’s points of view, and then demanding that our leaders listen to us and act for the common good is a great place to start. Please support us in these vital efforts.

These first steps are easy: Try one of our policymaking simulations and let your representatives know what you think Congress should do on some of the toughest issues they face – after you’ve had a chance to put yourself in their shoes, weigh the best arguments from all sides, and consider the tradeoffs. If you want to do more, consider making a special “Democracy Day” donation to help us continue these efforts. 

Our democracy works best when Congress listens to ‘we the people,’ not just the most powerful and best organized lobbying groups in Washington. In fact, the United States of America was founded on this premise. So let’s get on with it.

Happy Democracy Day, America! 


In the final step of our Iran deal policymaking simulation, our national Citizen Cabinet panelists were asked whether they would recommend that their members of Congress approve of the deal, going through a two-stage process.

They were first asked to choose whether to recommend approval or disapproval of the deal. A modest 52 percent majority initially recommended approval, while 47 percent recommended disapproval. The result was very partisan – 69 percent of Democrats approved and 69 percent of Republicans disapproved. Among independents, three in five chose approval (60 percent). 

Panelists who recommended disapproval were then offered the alternative options that they had evaluated earlier (as noted in a previous post): ramping up sanctions higher until Iran ends enrichment; trying to start a renegotiation; or threatening military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites and escalating if our demands are not met. They were also offered the option of approving the deal.

The most chosen alternative option was increasing sanctions (23 percent), followed by renegotiation (14 percent) and military pressure (7 percent). Another 3 percent decided on approval of the deal, and this included 3 percent of both Democrats and Republicans. This raised the total for approving the deal to 55 percent [see graph].

In the end, a clear majority concluded that approving of the deal would be the best approach and no other option received support greater than one in four.

Everyone is invited to try our policymaking simulation on the Iran deal for themselves. Click here to start.


In our recent policymaking simulation on the Iran Deal, we asked our nationwide Citizen Cabinet to consider the alternatives to making the deal. Among them is renegotiating the deal:

Proposal: The US Congress should reject the nuclear deal with Iran and do whatever it can to keep sanctions in place. Congress should tell the administration to try to renew negotiations with Iran so as to get better terms.  Negotiators would then seek to get even tighter limits on Iran’s enrichment activities, to extend time limits on the terms of the deal, and to ensure that IAEA inspectors have true anytime/anywhere inspections. Sanctions on Iran would remain in place or tightened further until a better deal is reached. With the threat of continued or increased sanctions and a greater resolve in the negotiations we will be effective in extracting more concessions. 

Fifty-nine percent found this to be Very or Somewhat convincing, including 80 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents.

Then a critique was presented:

This proposal is simply unrealistic.  It is extremely unlikely that the other permanent Members of the UN Security Council, especially China and Russia, after years of negotiations, would simply abandon the existing deal and reopen negotiations with Iran because the US changed its mind.  It is equally unlikely that Iran would agree to reopen negotiations or would be willing to show any greater flexibility.  Other countries that are already gearing up to do business with Iran are unlikely to want to reverse course because the US changed its mind.  Many countries would be annoyed with the US. The most likely scenario is that the sanctions against Iran would simply fall apart, and the US and its allies would be divided. In the end, Iran would be less constrained than it is now and much less constrained than it would be under the deal.

Sixty-seven found this Very or Somewhat convincing, including 58 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Dems and 65 percent of independents.

Panelists were then asked two questions about likelihood of success. The first asked how likely it is that the P5+1 would agree to abandon the existing deal and return to negotiations. A 54 percent majority thought this unlikely, while 44 percent thought it likely. Majorities of Democrats (61 percent) and independents (53 percent) thought it unlikely, while the prospect divided Republicans.

Panelists were then asked,

“How likely do you think it is that Iran would agree to return to negotiations and would agree to make more concessions?”

An overwhelming majority – four in five thought this unlikely (79 percent). There was little difference in responses from Republicans, Dems and independents.

A full report of the survey’s results can be seen here.

You can also try the simulation for yourself, and let your members of Congress know what you’d like them to do about the deal… click here to start.


Americans don’t love the Iran deal. There is a lot they wish were different. But when they look at it closely, review hard-hitting critiques, and—perhaps most importantly—evaluate the alternatives, a clear majority recommends that their Members of Congress approve of the deal. Republicans do not concur, though they don’t settle on an alternative.

These are the findings of a new in-depth survey of a citizen advisory panel, consisting of a representative sample of 702 registered voters. Fifty-five percent of the panelists endorsed approving the deal, including 72 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents, but only 33 percent of Republicans.

The study was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation together with the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. Panelists were recruited by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger national panel recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households.

The online panel, called the ‘Citizen Cabinet,’ first went through an in-depth process, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ which was developed in consultation with Congressional staffers and other experts to assure accuracy and balance.

Panelists were given a briefing on the background and the terms of the deal and evaluated a series of strongly-stated critiques of the deal plus rebuttals to those critiques. The critiques focused on the fact that the deal allows Iran a limited enrichment program, that there are some sites to which inspectors cannot gain instant access, that there are time limits on some of the constraints on their nuclear program and that with the lifting of sanctions Iran will gain about $100 billion in unfrozen assets. Both the critiques and the rebuttals were found convincing by majorities, but larger majorities found the critiques convincing.

Alternatives to the deal were presented, including arguments for and against. But when the panelists were asked to make their final recommendation, none of alternatives were seen as more attractive than the deal.

The alternative most widely promoted by Congressional opponents—to seek to renegotiate the deal to get better terms—was recommended by just 14 percent. The reasons were pretty clear. Fifty-four percent thought it was unlikely that other permanent members of the UN Security Council would cooperate with such an effort, while an overwhelming 79 percent thought it unlikely that Iran would agree to return to negotiations and to make more concessions.

Another alternative—ramping up sanctions on Iran and other countries that do business with Iran until Iran gives up its nuclear enrichment program and allows anytime/anywhere inspections—did a bit better, with 23 percent recommending it.

The alternative of threatening military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites was recommended by just 7 percent. Eighty-one percent thought that such threats would likely not be effective.

Republicans departed substantially from the majority position, but did not come to a consensus as to what to do instead. The largest number—36 percent—recommended ramping up sanctions, followed closely by 33 percent who recommended approval of the deal. One in five recommended trying to renegotiate and get a better deal. Only 9 percent recommended threatening to use military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The study was also sponsored by Voice Of the People, which promotes the development of Citizen Cabinets to give the people a greater voice in policymaking.  

The policymaking simulation that the Citizen Cabinet went through is available online at www.vop.org, so any citizen can go through the same process, learn about the issue, make their own recommendations and send them to their representatives in Congress.

A report on the survey’s results, “Assessing the Iran Deal” can be found here.

Steven Kull is president and founder of Voice Of the People, and director of the Program for Public Consultation, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

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This column first appeared at Huffington Post on September 2, 2015


National Citizen Advisory Panel Expresses Concerns Over Terms of the Deal, But No Alternative Seen As Betteriran_national_cover

WASHINGTON – A majority of a national citizen advisory panel, made up of a representative sample of American registered voters, recommends Congress approve the deal recently negotiated between Iran, the United States and other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program.

After assessing strong critiques of the terms of the deal – including rebuttals – and then evaluating the pros and cons of alternatives, 55 percent concluded that Congress should approve the agreement, despite serious concerns about some of its details. Twenty-three percent recommended ratcheting up sanctions instead, 14 percent favored renewing negotiations to get better terms, and 7 percent recommended threatening Iran with military strikes unless they agree to better terms.

The survey, conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) and its Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM), found seventy-two percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents recommended approval of the deal. This represents a significant rise in Democratic support for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear capabilities and increases inspections in return for limited sanctions relief (up from 65 percent in July, 2014) and a more pronounced shift among independents (up from 51 percent).

In contrast to previous consultations conducted during the negotiations, Republicans departed substantially from the majority position. Just 33 percent of Republican panelists recommended approval of the deal (down from 62 percent who preferred negotiating an agreement a year ago). However, there was no consensus among Republicans about an alternative: 36 percent recommended ramping up sanctions, while 20 percent recommended trying to renegotiate and get a better deal. Nine percent recommended threatening to use military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The online advisory panel, called the ‘Citizen Cabinet’, first went through an in-depth process, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ which was developed in consultation with Congressional staffers and other experts to assure accuracy and balance. After panelists were given a briefing on the background and terms of the deal, they evaluated a series of strongly stated critiques of the deal with rebuttals to those critiques. Majorities found each of the critiques and the rebuttals
at least somewhat convincing. The fact that large majorities found these critiques convincing indicates serious concern among voters about key details of the deal, but in the end, majorities see failure to approve the deal as a greater concern.

Alternatives to the deal were presented, including arguments for and against. Here too, the arguments on both sides were found convincing by majorities, but none of the alternatives performed as well as the option of approving the deal.

The alternative most widely promoted by Congressional opponents, to reopen negotiations, was recommend by just 14 percent. Overall 54 percent thought it was unlikely that other permanent members of the UN Security Council would cooperate with such an effort, while 79 percent thought it was unlikely that Iran would return to negotiations and make more concessions.

The alternative of ramping up sanctions on Iran and other countries that do business with Iran until Iran gives up its nuclear enrichment program and allows anytime/anywhere inspections did a bit better, with 23 percent recommending it. Support for this option reflected optimism that other countries would agree not to do business with Iran if Congress disapproved the deal.

The alternative of threatening military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites was recommended by just 7 percent. Eighty-one percent thought that such threats would not likely be effective.

“There is a lot of concern about key terms of the deal, especially the limits on inspections and the release of frozen funds to Iran,” said PPC Director Steven Kull. “Standard polls are reflecting these concerns, but when voters think through the issue, they conclude taking the deal is better than any of the alternatives.”

The study was sponsored by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, which also participated in survey development, and by Voice Of the People, which promotes the development of Citizen Cabinets to give the people a greater voice in policymaking.

The entire survey instrument is now posted at www.VOP.org to allow anyone to go through the same ‘policymaking simulation’ the representative panel went through, get briefed on the issue, hear the best arguments from all sides, and share their views directly with members of Congress.

The survey of a probability-based representative sample of 702 registered voters was conducted August 17-20. Panelists were recruited to participate in the Citizen Cabinet by Nielsen Scarborough from its larger national panel recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households.

A report on the survey’s results, “Assessing the Iran Deal,” can be found at:
http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Assessing_the_Iran_Deal_Report.pdf

The questionnaire for the survey can be found at:
http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Assessing_the_Iran_Deal_Quaire.pdf

Related studies of American and Iranian public attitudes toward the nuclear negotiations can be found at: http://www.cissm.umd.edu/projects/program-public-consultation




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